Previously: Retired college teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley. Memories of Vernon interrupt an unpleasant lunch.
Lucinda walked around the house to the trellis going up to her bedroom window. Honeysuckle blossoms covered the vine. Leaning in, she smelled the scent, felt her heart begin to beat more slowly and closed her eyes. She cocked her head when she thought she heard a basketball being dribbled on a hall floor, the sound ricocheting off the walls. When she opened her eyes she was back at the junior college and saw Vernon jerking toward her, wearing gym shorts and sneakers, trying to bounce the ball.
“Vernon, what are you doing?”
“Why, I’m dribbling the basketball down the hall.” He stopped in front of her and wiped the sweat from his face. “The new coach, Coach Cummins, says to dribble the thing up and down the hall the whole gym period until I get so I don’t kick it when I run.”
“If you’re in Mr. Cummins’ class that must mean this is the fall of your sophomore year.” Lucinda considered how quickly time passed when it became a memory.
“That’s right. I did a whole lot better the spring semester. You even gave me a B.”
She smiled. “I didn’t give you a B. You earned it. I’m very proud of your progress, Vernon.”
The front screen door flung open. The noise drew Lucinda back to the present. Nancy marched out with Shirley in tow.
“You’ll have to behave in the beauty shop this afternoon. I’m not leaving you here around that old busybody who’ll fill your head with nonsense.”
“Omigosh, that’s Nancy!” Vernon announced excitedly, his voice sounding like it was an echo from a well.
“Yes,” Lucinda replied without emotion.
“She still lives here?”
Shirley broke away from her mother and run over to give Lucinda a quick hug. “I gotta go to Mama’s beauty shop this afternoon.” She looked up into the old woman’s face. “Now you take a nap this afternoon, okay? You don’t look good.”
“Shirley! You come back here right now!” Nancy screamed as she walked down the sidewalk. “If you’re not by my side when I reach the street you’re gonna be in trouble!”
“Yes, Mama.” She gave Lucinda another quick hug. “See you tonight, Mrs. Cambridge.” She ran to catch up to her mother.
“Who’s the little girl?” Vernon asked. His voice was still faint.
“So Nancy got married?” The question rang stronger.
“Um, Vernon don’t worry about Coach Cummins. Just do the best you can.” Lucinda watched Shirley and Nancy walk around the corner and disappear. When she turned back to Vernon they were in the college hallway once more.
“You bet I’m not going to worry about it.” He was solid and sweaty. “I may not be able to bounce this stupid ball, but I can beat up anybody in that class, including the coach. Look at that muscle.” He flexed his bicep.
“Now, now, Vernon, you’re always talking beating up people, but I’d say you’ve never even been in a fight, have you?” She allowed her eyes to linger on his arms.
“Well, no.” He ducked his head. “I’ve never got that mad at anybody yet. But if I ever do get that mad, they better watch out.”
“I hope you’re never that angry. In fact, I’m sure you’ll never be.”
“I guess you’re right.” He tried to dribble again but with no better results.
Lucinda looked around to see if any students or teachers walking past them noticed their conversation. “How did you spend your summer?”
“I had a great time.” Vernon’s face brightened. “Nancy and me, we went—“
“And I,” she corrected him. “Don’t forget your grammar while you’re remembering your summer.”
“Oh yeah.” He paused to clear his throat and concentrate on what he was saying. “Nancy and I went swimming a lot and saw some movies. Gosh it was wonderful.”
“Did she go home for the summer to Pilot Point?” she asked.
“Sure, but I drove over to see her.”
“You drove all that way just for a date?” She could not resist letting a touch of censure color her voice. “Surely your parents didn’t approve of that.”
“I bought the gas with my summer job money,” he replied defensively. “Besides, it ain’t — isn’t any of their business.”
“If you spend your money foolishly you won’t be able to go to the university next year.” She was relentless in her chastisement.
“I’ll have enough.” Shifting his weight from one foot to the other, Vernon’s attention drifted.
“And I hate to see a fine young, honorable man like yourself deceive his parents over a girl like Nancy Meyers.” Looking back upon the incident Lucinda realized how petty and self-serving her manner was.
“I’m not deceiving no — anybody. I tell them I got a date and they don’t ask who or where. And they don’t say anything when I get in late.” He cocked his head in curiosity. “And what did you mean by a girl like Nancy Meyers?”
“Your mother and father haven’t inquired about your dates?” She continued with questions she clearly knew were none of her business to ask.
“Mama’s just happy I got a date and you know my father. He doesn’t care.” Vernon frowned. “And what did you mean by a girl like Nancy Meyers?”
“Oh, I’m sure your father cares.” Lucinda found safety in her attempt to defend his father. After all, honoring your father was one of the Ten Commandments.
“No, he doesn’t — and what did you mean by a girl like Nancy Meyers?” His tone was now markedly testy.
“I didn’t mean anything by it.” She feigned surprise that her remarks were taken the wrong way. “I’d think, however, that a young woman would consider the expense she’s placing on a young gentleman to have him call on her from such a distance.”
He lowered his gaze to study the basketball in his hands. “You don’t like Nancy, do you?”
“Let’s just say I like you better.”
“You’ve never liked Nancy.” It was as if a gate had been opened, and Vernon’s emotion came out. “I could tell, even that first time when I told you about the dance.”
This memory was getting entirely too uncomfortable. Lucinda looked up and around. “There was the bell. I’ve got a class. And you have to shower and do whatever else young men do after perspiring.”
“I didn’t hear a bell,” he replied sullenly.
“If I want to remember a bell, I’ll remember one. This is my memory, after all.” She turned to go up the porch steps, leaving Vernon in past.